Parliament elects new committee heads despite opposition

South Africa’s ruling African National Congress used its majority to elect new committee heads on Tuesday, including a lawmaker accused of bribery, despite opposition from rival parties concerned over the calibre of nominees.

President Cyril Ramaphosa became leader of the ANC in December 2017 after narrowly defeating a faction allied with his scandal-plagued predecessor Jacob Zuma.

But he has so far struggled to make meaningful policy changes to pull Africa’s most industrialised nation out of an economic slump.

“We are here in parliament to implement the resolutions and to support the policy positions of the ruling party and to support the head of the ANC and government,” said Bongani Bongo, elected to chair the home affairs committee over a rival candidate from the main opposition Democratic Alliance (DA).

But critics said Tuesday’s appointments of nominees announced by ANC secretary general Ace Magashule, who is seen as leading a rival faction in the ruling party, would not help Ramaphosa’s professed war on graft or economic reform agenda.

Bongo, a former minister of state security, was accused in parliament of offering a bribe during a 2017 inquiry into allegations of graft at power utility Eskom.

Parliament’s ethics committee is still looking into that. Asked about the ongoing investigation after his election on Tuesday, Bongo told journalists “No comment” before being ushered away by fellow ANC lawmakers.

Bongo has previously denied any wrongdoing.

The ANC, which won most votes in May’s general elections, has 6 members in the committee of 11 lawmakers.

Others elected to chair parliamentary committees, which play a powerful executive oversight role and process new laws, include former Zuma cabinet ministers Mosebenzi Zwane, Faith Muthambi and Tina Joemat-Petterson.

Zwane, the former mines minister, has been linked by people testifying at an inquiry and by opposition lawmakers to the Estina dairy farm project, which saw Zuma’s friends, the Gupta family, allegedly steal millions of rands for a wedding.

Zwane has previously denied any wrongdoing.

“How can it be that those who have evaded accountability and checks and balances for almost a decade, are now responsible for performing oversight and holding the executive to account?” the DA’s chief whip John Steenhuisen said in a statement.

Former president Zuma, unseated last year over corruption allegations, is expected to attend a judicial inquiry later this month into government graft during his tenure.

The Zondo Commission is reviewing accusations that three prominent businessmen – brothers Atul, Ajay and Rajesh Gupta — unduly influenced Zuma during his presidency over political appointments and the awarding of state contracts.

Both Zuma and the Gupta family have denied all allegations.